The current phenomenon of small fields at premier tracks on prime race days has moved beyond embarrassing to outright disgusting. What the hell is going on?
It’s bad enough that superior horses like Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta scare off competitors, resulting in small fields, but it’s ridiculous when lesser races suffer from the same fate. For example, on Memorial Day, race 8 at Churchill Downs (an upper-level AOC) went off with three starters—Old Man Buck, Real Appeal and Jamaludin—after five scratches, over a track rated “good.” Today at Belmont Park, where the track was rated “fast,” there were just three runners in the Lord of the Night Stakes—after four scratches. By the way, congratulations, Cool Coal Man, for your wire-to-wire victory over Discreet Treasure and True Resurgence—not that he needs it, but that had to be some of the easiest earned black-type ever.
I’m not complaining about races taken off the turf, but races obviously run over perfectly fine tracks—and for decent money. While it might be easy to say racing secretaries simply aren’t doing their jobs well, are there other possibilities? In both aforementioned cases, these were route races on dirt for three-year-olds and up. Is it possible that we are reaping the results of all the early retirements, either to injury or stud duty, of top young horses over recent years? Or too by breeding for speed, not stamina is there a dearth of quality route horses? And, of course, the big white elephant in the room—are there simply too damn many tracks holding too many races?
Whatever the reasons are, I’m sick of wagering (or more precisely, not wagering) on these short field events—and I’m sure others are as well. Thus, handle goes down and racing continues to teeter on the brink of financial ruin. It’s time for all involved parties to step up, and permit a racing “czar” or other central authority to establish racing circuits, lessen the number of race dates, and better co-ordinate major stakes races. Bigger and more competitive fields now!